Friday, August 17, 2012

Docteur Blanke at Hotel Majestic

One of the interesting documents that we have courtesy of Jean-Jacques Richard is this May 1942 letter  (photographed from a microfilm reader) from the lawyer of Charles Clerc to a Docteur Blanke at the Hotel Majestic regarding a legal proceeding concerning the Société de Bijouterie le l'Opera, the business that Joseph Liebman had been forced to leave behind two years earlier as he fled to America. 

I can't make it out well enough to translate it in full, but it recounts the complicated ownership history of the company following the death of founder Charles Rémy Clerc (in 1915) and before its acquisition (in 1932) by Joseph Liebman. As has been well covered on the JJR blog, Clerc's widow and son Charles took control of the business to the disadvantage of another son Paul Clerc.

Although neither Clerc brother held an ownership interest in the business in 1940, when the German military took command of Paris, both now sought to regain control of the company under the occupier's Aryanization policy, in which Jewish-owned businesses were appropriated and placed under non-Jewish administration. 

To learn more, I googled the name of this letter's addressee: Docteur Blanke at the Hotel Majestic. What popped up was an except from the book "Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War" by Hal Vaughan (Knopf, 2011). 
As promised Vaufredland now contacted his friend, a German official named Prince Ernst Ratibor-Corvey (also a friend of Dincklage). Ratibor-Corvey advised Vaufreland to arrange an appointment for Chanel with Dr. Kurt Blanke, who operated out of the Gestapo offices at the Hotel Majestic where Blanke and his coworkers administered Nazi laws providing for the confiscatiokn of Jewish property. Chanel sought Blanke's help to Aryanize La Societe des Parfums Chanel in her favor. 
With the occupation of France, the forty-year-old Blanke, a German lawyer and Nazi, had been appointed by Berlin to head the Paris office responsible for Entjudung, "the elimination of Jewish influence." Until 1944 he played a key role in seizing Jewish assets—transferring Jewish-owned businesses and property into Aryan hands.
Chanel and Blanke met at the Hotel Majestic sometime in the early winter of 1941-1942. Afer speaking with him, Chanel believed she was one step closer to defeating the Wertheimers and getter full control of the Societe des Parfums Chanel. 
I have since read the full fascinating book, which for the first time tells the complete story of the famous fashion designer's Nazi collaboration during the Occupation years. Chanel's story in many ways parallels on a grander scale the circumstances of Clerc. I hope to come back with more thoughts about the book later, but let's not lose track of Dr. Blanke.

Now with his first name and details of his function in Paris, I google again and find a German Wikipedia page here, from which we learn that Blanke went on to a distinguished career in law and public service, escaping scrutiny for his wartime activities until well after his death in 1997. The article notes that beginning in 2008, research by historian Martin Jungius documented Blanke's central role as the administrator of Nazi policy to eliminate Jewish influence in the French economy.

The Wiki page links to the key paper by Jungius and co-author Wolfgang Seibel, "The Citizen as Perpetrator: Kurt Blanke and Aryanization in France 1940-1944," published in the Winter 2008 edition of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Since it is normally behind an academic paywall but is of high interest to the small general audience of this blog, I make it available for reading here. If Oxford Journals requests, I will take it down.

In an upcoming post, I'll summarize what we learn about Blanke from Jungius, and what that tells us about the facts of the Clerc case that is the focus of our interest.

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